This motherhood #4 Do children always grow where they're planted?
Before we began this crazy, exhilarating Caribbean life - a life that is to be the first step of our international family journey - we lived in the suburbs of London, nestled among close family and old friends. Both my parent's and Alex's lived very close by, as did both our sisters. My nieces attended the same school as my daughter. We saw family most weekends. We were pretty tightly knit. And we had a lot of support.
It goes without saying that when we arrived in Barbados, all of this changed. For me, there was so much to get used to. But for the children, my older two anyway, who were four and eight when we arrived, it must've felt like they'd landed on another planet.
I remember in our first month here, Oscar, who was four, constantly asking funny questions about why things were different. In the car on the school run:
'Why is that house broken down? The one with the roof that's falling in and the broken windows. I know! Maybe a stealer broke the glass and got in.
'And why are those people filling up water in that bucket. They don't have a bath? What's that thing? A pump? And, look! That man's hair is funny - he must be hot with that wooly hat on top...'
He also worried a lot about the people who looked like they were struggling. Those who asked us for money at the petrol station, at the supermarket car park: the man with a big grey beard and worn out clothes who wanted to wash our car, the distressed woman who looked like she hadn't slept for days, the man hunched over a shopping trolley full of plastic bottles that he'd collected for money.
'Mummy, can we help them, please?' he'd say.
For Lila, who was eight, everything was wrong. It was too hot - her skin itched with heat rash and she was plagued by mosquito bites. She hated her school and crucially, she desperately missed her grandparents, cousins and best friend - who she was used to seeing most days. Repeated ear infections had her on an almost constant dose of antibiotics - which made her retch. She asked the same question over and over again,' Why can't we just go back?' and at one point she cried herself to sleep every night. I won't pretend that it wasn't hard.
I worried myself sick wondering if I'd done the right thing in bringing them here. I wanted to protect them while at the same time, I wanted so much for them. I wanted them to know the world and all of the people in it. To know that there are so many different ways of living life. As Mark Twain said, in An Innocent Abroad, “Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things can not be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”
And sure enough, Oscar's confidence has grown immeasurably. He's interested in everyone and will strike up a conversation with anyone who comes his way.
For Lila, a change in school, new friends, the discovery of surfing - her new found hobby, and a beloved pet kitten, have made her life in Barbados open up. She has spent three crucial years of her childhood here and I truly believe that this island has inhabited a part of her soul and deep and lasting memories, of the sea, of watching monkeys from her bedroom window, of picking mangos from our tree in the hot sun, will stay with her forever.
Iris, who was a ten month old baby when we arrived, is now Barbadian. She has a Barbadian accent, a beach tan (I try not to think of it as sun damage, ahem) and a home, with a pool by the beach, that she misses desperately when we visit the UK.
Now, with just over one year left in Barbados, I'm starting to think about what we are going to do next. We don't yet know where we'll go after this. It could be London agin, or could be somewhere in Africa, Asia...
The truth is, the biggest thing that I've learned from this experience so far, is that, while the children will always have their support system in Alex and I, wherever we go. While they'll always have our love and we'll be their constant, their biggest source of guidance and support, their environment - what happens outside our front door has a huge impact on them too. They are uprooted every time we move. And it's this that makes them Third Culture Kids - a term that describes children who were raised outside of their passport country or parent's culture for a significant amount of their childhood. This is what they have become for better or, perhaps, in some small way, worse.
So when we make our next transition, I'll have more of an idea of what to expect. And although I'm not very good at planning (for me it's one of the hardest things about being a mum) I know that I'll need to really consider their individual needs as part of the process. Because they're all different.
And it's for this reason that I'm starting a new series on the blog called Life as a Third Culture Kid which will provide practical tips for different age groups and incorporate the advice of experts with considerable experience of the concept of third culture kids. It will definitely help me prepare for what's to come next and hopefully, if you're a parent who's made a recent transition or who has an impending move on the horizon, you'll get something from it too. Get in touch if you want - via the comments section below. And watch this space!